“I’m one of those people who’s always wanted to do an animated film,” Anna Kendrick says. “I’m sure a big part of that was just growing up on animation, but I saw ‘Finding Nemo’ and thought Ellen DeGeneres gave the most impressive performance of her career through the voice of a tiny blue fish. So, for me, it’s not just the nostalgia. There’s real work to be done in an animated film, and I was excited to see what I could do without the aid of my face or body.”
Kendrick, the 26-year-old, Oscar-nominated co-star of “Up in the Air” (2009), four “Twilight” films and this year’s “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” got her shot at animation with “ParaNorman.” The story follows the adventures of Norman Babcock (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), an 11-year-old who can see and converse with the dead, abilities that come in handy when zombies invade his town, Blithe Hollow.
Other major characters include Courtney (Kendrick), Norman’s annoying, self-centered sister, and Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who bullies Norman on a regular basis. Then there’s Uncle Prenderghast (John Goodman), who reveals that a local curse is all too real, and The Judge (Bernard Hill), leader of the zombies.
“To me the film is about being picked on, being an outsider, and I don’t think there’s anyone who can’t relate to that on some level,” Kendrick says. “What I really like about it, though, is that, even with the bully or the obnoxious older sister, there’s more to them than meets the eye. You realize that Alvin is really vulnerable. Courtney becomes really supportive.
“That’s one of my favorite parts of the movie, realizing that everybody has their own inner insecurities.”
Kendrick reports that she relished the chance to play an obnoxious character. One moment Courtney can be absolutely thrilled talking on the phone with her friend, and then, when she accidentally spills a bottle of nail polish, it’s as if — zombies aside — it’s the end of the world.
“She’s obviously so funny,” Kendrick says, “but I liked her volatility and her teenage-girl mood swings. That was a lot of fun to do vocally.
“I don’t really see myself in there,” she adds. “Watching it, I can definitely see a lot of my body language in the animation. Some of the animators were telling me that a lot of my facial expressions are in there, but Courtney looks so different from me that it’s hard for me to see that. But I do see a lot of my bendy, frustrated body language.”
“ParaNorman” doesn’t resemble most animated features in its look or tone. It’s a quirky tale, with occasionally frightening imagery, and there’s some amusingly crude humor. The characters were realized using puppets and stop-motion animation, complemented by a 3D color printer used to fashion replacement faces for the puppets.
The lengthy, detailed process, Kendrick says, meant that she could improvise on occasion. Further, she could try certain line readings again and again if she or co-directors Sam Fell and Chris Butler didn’t care for something recorded months earlier.
“It was really helpful to be performing in something that was always kind of in flux,” Kendrick says. “There was a scene that they’d storyboarded out. Some of the shots were finished, but some of it was still in storyboards, and they showed it to me. They said, ‘We’re still shooting, and we want to redo a couple of your lines.’
“All of a sudden I could really see, ‘Oh, this is what I needed to be doing in that scene. This is what I need to bring, this time around, to really keep the momentum of what they’re trying to do,’ ” she recalls.
Kendrick recently attended a screening of “ParaNorman.”
“I didn’t really know what to expect from the third act, and it’s just so visually arresting and emotionally haunting,” she says. “I was blown away by the whole movie. You get a little bit of tunnel vision with your own vocal performance, and I’m so much on the lighter side of the movie that it was wonderful to see how they tied everything together at the end.”
That’s all well and good, but here’s the big question: Did Kendrick come away from “ParaNorman” with a Courtney puppet?
“I didn’t get a puppet,” Kendrick says with a mock sigh. “I did get to keep a little miniature bust of her head. That’s really, really cute.”
The New York Times